Showcase Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Teaching and assessing oral communication skills online: Constraints and opportunities (#154)

Liam Phelan 1 , Bonnie McBain 1
  1. University of Newcastle, Australia, CALLAGHAN NSW 2308, NSW, Australia

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

This paper reports on and analyses a 2013-14 multi-disciplinary trial of teaching and assessing oral communications skills in online and blended learning modes at an Australian university. Skills in oral communications are essential for university graduates in their future roles as informed citizens and effective professionals. The importance of learning oral communication skills in tertiary education is widely recognised in the literature and in the higher education sector, for example though inclusion in universities’ graduate attributes or as specified in external accreditation frameworks. Even so, this remains an area for which there is comparatively little academic understanding of best practices: evidence suggests many students graduate from tertiary programs without oral communications skills adequate for professional settings. Online and blended learning modes are becoming more prevalent and colleagues from eight diverse disciplines trialled a range of oral communications assessment task (OOCATS) designs across ten undergraduate and postgraduate units offered both in online and blended learning modes. Assessment task designs including individual and group presentations, viva exams and mock patient interviews. A total of 124 students responded to a questionnaire asking them about their experiences. Further, 131 academic staff responded to a second questionnaire about their attitudes to teaching and assessing oral communications skills. Data describing the experiences of both students and teaching staff involved in the trial were collected and analysed using both qualitative and quantitative methods. We found interest in using OOCATS and that both students and participating lecturers identified many advantages for student learning as a result of employing an OOCAT. The results suggest a number of recommendations for universities, program convenors, and lecturers in support of wider and more effective use of OOCATs in teaching and learning. This paper will be of interest to teaching academics and academic developers with interests in oral communication skills and educational technologies.

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)

This submission addresses the conference theme ‘Learning for life and work in a complex world’ and the following two sub-themes:

1. Educating graduates to be responsive and adaptable professionals

2. Exploiting emerging technologies to enable employability. 

The submission addresses the first sub-theme above through its focus on developing students’ oral communication skills, recognised as essential for ‘graduates to be responsive and adaptable professionals’.  The submission addresses the second sub-theme above though its focus on ‘[e]xploiting emerging technologies’, i.e., online and blended learning mode technologies, in support of graduates’ employability.